Marketing Mondays: The Endless Requests To Donate Your Art

no . . nein . . NYET. . nay . . NON . . unh-unh . . sorry . . no way. . AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN

I love this video of the novelist Harlan Ellison on You Tube talking with some vehemence--well, ranting (and good for him)--about why he doesn't let his writing be used for free. Change writers to visual artists and you know how I feel about donating to art auctions.
I posted an item on the subject, No, I will Not Donate to Your Auction, on Tuesday, September 11, 2007. I've decided to repost it here with a new postscript:

No, I will Not Donate to Your Auction

Recently a regional museum requested that I donate a small painting to their auction. I said no.

This museum has never shown the least interest in including my work in its thematic shows. Its curators have never expressed sufficient interest in my work to make a studio visit. But they’d be happy to sell it to support their program, which to this date has not supported me. What’s wrong with this picture?

Of course this is not the first time I have been asked to donate work to an auction. If you are an artist, you have been inundated with requests. They’re all good causes: support for museums and art centers, college scholarship programs, AIDS research, breast cancer research. If there’s a need or an illness, there’s an art auction. Here’s the problem: the people least able to afford to donate are the ones repeatedly being asked to give it up. And the ones most able to afford to buy artwork are getting it for a song. What’s wrong with that picture?

Reasons to Donate Your Art
. "It’s great visibility," they tell you. Maybe. If you're an art student or an emerging artist and you pick your causes carefully, yes, you may get some visibility and attention. Some local dealers do look around for who and what’s hot at these events. A collector might acquire a piece at the beginning of your career and remain supportive as your career develops.
. Is there an illustrated catalog? Even midcareer artists might appreciate the boost of a full-page color image and a listing in the "Bibliography" section of your resume.
Reasons Not to Donate Your Art
. Auctions are like Loehmans: they condition collectors to buy lower than retail. This means the rug is effectively pulled out from under your carefully cultivated prices. You’re cheapened.
. Auctions eliminate the dealer. Here’s how the art world works: Artists make the art. Dealers sell it. It’s a symbiotic relationship, because a dealer creates a market for your work, creates a collector base, places the work with private and corporate clients. Undercut the dealer and you undercut your own best interests.
. You get nothing. Zip. Zippo. Nada.
. You can’t even deduct the cost of your work; you can deduct only the cost of materials.
. Think you can put these shows on your resume? Think again. What dealer wants to show an artist who is giving it away? And if the work doesn’t sell, you’re really screwed. Subtext: "This artist can’t even give it away."

How You Can Give
. Ask for a percentage of the sale. Artist-friendly institutions understand that you can't keep giving it away. For emerging artists, it’s a good deal because you get some visibility and a small sum for your work.
. Give cash. Come tax time you can deduct the full price of the donation.
. Look at alternative auction ideas. For instance, I enjoy participating in Postcards from the Edge, part of the Visual AIDS project, which is hosted by a different gallery each year, and Wish You Were Here, the postcard show to benefit A.I.R. Gallery, both in New York. These events draw thousands of people. For each event, I produce a postcard-size painting that will sell for a standard price, about $50.

In most postcard shows, no one signs their name on the front of the postcards, so you could be getting a Faith Ringgold or a Joanne Mattera or a Josephine Schmo. That’s part of the fun. And the price is equally accessible to both artists and collectors. You don’t undercut your price because the price is the same for everyone. What’s more, I appreciate that these institutions understand and respect that they are asking artists to donate work, so they’ve devised a win/win situation.

A Few Suggestions to All the Institutions Who Want My Work and Yours
. Make a high enough minimum so that we’re not cheapened by the sale price.
. Give the artist 50 percent of the selling price (or the option of receiving it).
. Make a good printed catalog with one color image per page. Spell the artists' names correctly.
. Create a well-designed website with images of each artist's work. Spell the artists' names correctly.
. Give us the name of the person who purchases our work so that we can put her/him on our own mailing list.
. Give us a free ticket to the event, not just a ticket with a reduced price.
. Acknowledge our contribution by showing our work in your institutions--not just for the auction.
Oh, and don’t ask too often.
. . . . . . . . . .
Update: November 2009
Some of the postcard shows have changed their rules to identify the artist with a wall label. While the mystery is removed, the excitement remains because there's a huge surge early on as collectors look to acquire work from their favorite artists. It's fun! And for artists, next to trading, it's a great way to build a nice personal collection for not a whole lot of money.
Wish You Were Here 8 at A.I.R. Gallery in June and July this year. Always a great show, it has updated its prodecure by making artist's names visible
Below: Debra Ramsay, top, and Elisa D'Arrigo--with identifying wall labels

No good deed goes unpunished: Several months ago, against my personal no-art-donations stance, I donated two paintings to Montserrat College of Art. I didn't hear anything after the auction, so I assumed the paintings had sold. When I emailed the event director two months later to get the names of the collectors --information that should have been sent to me without asking--I got this reply: "You should have been notified (quite some time ago) and I apologize if you weren't. The paintings did not sell."
Yes, I should have been notified. To add insult to injury, the custom boxes in which they were delivered, and which were obviously meant for safekeeping (i.e. This is a custom-made box plastered on the front) had been thrown out! Although the paintings were bubble wrapped and in good condition, I wasted time on pickup--I had to retrieve them myself-- follow-up, and box construction.
So . . . Additional Suggestions to the Institutions Who Want My Work and Yours
. No excuses. If you ask for work and it does not sell, return it immediately. If an artist has to call looking for her work, you have not done your job.
. Working with volunteers? Lay out some working parameters so that they don't throw out packing materials meant to be saved. Or worse, the art itself.
. Understand that when art is lost or damaged, or when the artist or artist's work is not treated with respect, that artist is not likely to donate again to your institution--or any other.

Over to You
Does anyone have horror stories or cautionary tales about donating to auctions? Has inclusion in an auction ever led to additional sales or attention beyond the auction? If you've had a wonderful experience, please share the details. Have you donated to, or purchased from any of the Postcard shows? In other words, fill us in.
Note: This will be the last Marketing Mondays post of the year. I'm making room for the Miami posts, Fair and Fair Alike, which will begin shortly and run through most of the rest of the month.. Marketing Mondays will resume in January.


Five Shows in Chicago

The first weekend of November I was in Chicago, where I took in a raft of gallery shows in River North. Then I visited the new wing of the Chicago Institute, crossing the Renzo Piano-designed bridge from there to Millennium Park, where Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, aka "The Bean," was attracting hoardes of artists and tourists. In an end-of-year roundup I’ll show you images from those latter venues, but in this post I’m focusing on the gallery shows —five of them, many still up.

My primary intention was to see the new paintings of my good friend Julie Karabenick, editor of
Geoform, which I've mentioned numerous times as an international online gathering of abstract geometric art. Her solo of ordered and harmonious geometries is in the small space at Melanee Cooper Gallery, where another friend, Kathleen Waterloo has the main exhibition space. Both shows are up through December 30.

On the way over I stopped into Perimeter Gallery, where Lia Cook’s work held the large front gallery. Then, just around the corner from Melanee Cooper, I stopped in at Jackie Tileston’s show at ZG Gallery (through December 31) and then Eric Blum (through January 2) at the David Weinberg Gallery.
. . . . . . . .

Jackie Tileston at ZG Gallery
Tileston’s show, Mesocosmos II, consists of paintings, photographs and drawings. The photographs, taken in India, relate to and in some instances appear to have influenced the paintings. The installation reflects these relationships. I’ve written about the Philadelphia-based Tileston before, so here I would just add that her work embraces beauty, mystery and transcendence without ignoring the harsher realities of earthly life.

Peeking into the just-below-street-level space: The Transcendent Who Superintends Reality of the Highest Three Heavens Jade Talisman and Contractual Writ of the Unifying Circlet, oil and mixed media on linen, 72 x 60
Detail below:

Entering the gallery:
Cosmographic Tendency, oil and mixed media on linen, 48 x 60, above; with closer view of the photograph, below
(I love the fiery orange that appears in both images)

Installation view in the second gallery
. . . . . . . .

Kathleen Waterloo at Melanee Cooper
The Chicago-based artist is on a mission, as the title of her show, Map Quest, suggests. Using her studio as a starting point, Waterloo has Mapquested the directions to some two dozen art museums around the country in which she would like to be shown. Then she created paintings and neon sculptures that incorporated the trail. Wishful thinking, perhaps. But then the journey of 1000 miles begins with one step, doesn't it? Here those first steps are paintings and neon sculptures.

Looking up into the gallery
Below: Waterloo Mapquests her way via paint and neon

Waterloo: BAM (Boise Art Museum), 2009, encaustic on panel, 42 x 48 inches; with Karabenick show in the gallery beyond

. . . . . . . .
In Just Around the Block, Ann Arbor-based Karebenick’s work has taken a Mondrianic turn. Always rigorous, here it channels boogie-woogie energy but with a meditative palette, so that as you view the work you get a sense of movement in slow motion. The grid is the basis of each painting, which is divided into more-or-less equal quadrants; within each quadrant are shifts in hue and value that ignite a retinally kinetic quality, like lights that blink. My suggestion: pull up a chair and spend the afternoon in this small gallery so that you can experience an ecstatic mind meld with the work.

Above and below: Two views of the gallery with Julie Karabenick's paintings, all from the Composition series

Karabenick: Composition 81, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches

. . . . . . . .

Lia Cook at Perimeter
With Dollface, Cook’s show at Perimeter Gallery which ended on November 14, you think you’re seeing large-scale digital prints. They’re not. They're weavings. But they are digital. Loom technology allows pixels to be translated into the under/over construction of cloth, so that image and textile are one. West Coast-based Cook draws from snapshots and family memories.

Installation view from gallery entrance. All work recent, woven in cotton and linen. (Sorry about the lack of info. I don't have a checklist and the gallery doesn't provide information online)

Closer view of the work on the far wall, above, with a detail:

. . . . . . . .
Eric Blum at David Weinberg Gallery
In an exhibition titled Infuse (with Hunt Rettig), the New York-based Blum shows atmospheric paintings that capture and diffuse light. Painted with beeswax on silk on panel (don’t ask; I'm not reporting on technique), the works suggest city lights photographed through mist at night—luminous and mysterious, a window into a little chunk of infinity.

N. 578, 2009; watercolor, beeswax and silk on panel, 51 x 77 inches
Detail below:


The Red Book


Entry to the exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York City; inset below: image from the Rubin Museum website

From 1913 to 1920, the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung recorded his waking visions in word and image in a large parchment volume that was bound in red leather. Part odyssey, part scripture, part Tarot, it revealed an Inferno of his deepest self and his eventual emergence as a whole and balanced person—an “individuated” being, is the term he used.
Jung kept The Red Book largely private during his life, and after his death in 1961, his heirs kept it locked in a safe deposit box. Over time the heirs, prodded in large part by his disciples, were persuaded to produce a facsimile copy of the volume. It has just been published.

Rubin Museum of Art in New York City offers an opportunity to see the actual volume. Given the difficult time that Jung student (and eventual editor) Sonu Shamdasani had in persuading the family to reproduce the volume, the museum's getting them to part with the original, even temporarily, must have been a coup.

The actual volume, which opens to about 18 x 30 inches, is set on a stand within a vitrine. The hallucinogenic illustrations are richly detailed in stained-glass hues on creamy parchment, painted in what look to be mineral pigments. The calligraphic text is in German and Latin. The whole thing is brilliantly obsessive. Once a week the museum staff removes the vitrine and turns the page, so that to get a sense of the volume you’d need to return regularly and often.

The Red Book sits on a stand inside a large vitrine. The light in the gallery is low, so the illuminations on the page electrify the eye

Fortunately, along with the original volume—and a nice selection of letters and original preparatory illustrations—the museum offers three facsimile copies for personal viewing. Bound within a red (though not leather) cover are high-res digital reproductions on creamy stock that are satisfyingly substantial to the eye and the hand. Shamdasani, the editor, has added an English translation at the back.

The Red Book is on view at
The Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea (a small gem of an institution that focuses on the art of the Himalayas) through January 25, 2010. Facsimile copies of The Red Book are available through booksellers now.

And by wonderful a coincidence, William Blake’s World: A New Heaven Is Begun, illustrations and books by the 18th-Century poet and illustrator, are on view at the Morgan Library through January 3.

At the Morgan Library: William Blake, image of Urizen from Europe: A Prophecy


Marketing Mondays: The Corporate Collection

"How do I get my work into corporate collections?" is the question a reader sent me recently. I can answer this from my personal experience, but I'm going to depend on all of you to add your own information to this post via the comments.

Corporations are Small and Large
Small companies and corporations will be approachable. Maybe you’re a customer or client of one of them. A physicians' group is corporation, for instance. So is a law or accounting office. So is an apartment co-op. You can probably ask the receptionist, or the person you deal with, for the name of the person to talk to, which might be the managing partner or office manager. If the walls are bare (or worse, postered) there's probably no one making art decisions, so you could end up being the go-to person simply because you were the person who went to them.

There's also the personal referral. Here's a for instance: The director of libraries for a large institution had just overseen every aspect of a new building, including the acquisition of art. She is someone who has followed my career and personally collected my work. When the time came to acquire work for the board room, she knew exactly which of my pieces she wanted to place in that space.

Here's another: The managing partner of a New York City law firm had just overseen the renovation of an additional floor of offices. When the time came to acquire art, he turned to his dealer, from whom he has acquired work for his personal collection. (Notice a pattern here? It has to do with comfort and trust.) Together, the managing partner and the dealer put together a collection that projected the corporation's image—bold and dynamic but not too edgy.

In larger corporations, a staff curator makes those decisions. In other instances a freelance curator—who might work for the corporation or for the architect in charge of construction or renovation—may be called in to do a specific job. Alternatively an interior designer or design consultant hired by the corporation or the architect might be called. A big corporate acquirer of art is the hospitality industry--i.e. hotels and restaurants. Airlines are not buying art for their planes, but they do buy for the corporate offices and the first-class lounges. Maybe I'm oversimplifying, but who handles the job depends on whether the venue is looking for art to create a collection or to go with the decor (no value judgment here; art serves many purposes). Sometimes, there's an overlap.

This four-panel painting of mine was acquired by Mark Williams Design, Atlanta, from a 2004 solo show at the Marcia Wood Gallery. Its destination was a private corporation in Chicago

Making Selections
Whether curator, architect, designer or consultant, the selectors typically make the rounds of galleries and non-profit spaces in their area. They may also visit open studios. And, of course, there are referrals. People who do this job for a living may return regularly to certain galleries or to individual artists because they know what to expect, and at what price point—and equally important, they can depend on the gallery or artist to deliver what's expected when it’s expected. (Don’t underestimate that power of comfort, trust and dependability.)

The big corporations may require that the curator/architect/designer/ consultant make a presentation. Smaller works might be physically brought in. Catalogs, exhibition announcements, and supporting material may factor into the decision. Once the decisions are made, the curator/architect/designer/ decorator will return to specific galleries or artists to pick up the work and install it, or have it installed.

Getting Your Work Into the Process
Show regularly. If you’re not with a gallery, show at alternative spaces, academic galleries, and open studios. The more your work is out there, the more likely it is to be seen.
. Hit the Internet. Who are art consultants, architects and decorators in your area? Put them on your postcard mailing list, and if they have an e-address, send them an invitation to visit your website. Let them know you'd welcome them for a studio visit.
. You do have a website, right? One big developer who selected the art for his buildings told one of my dealers that he had "depleted" his immediate area and had hit the Internet in search of more choices, which was why he'd ended up in her city and specifically at her gallery, and more specifically with my paintings.
. Do your own research. What are the small corporations in your region? If you do work that references biology, see if there are biotech startups in your area. Working digitally? Where are the tech firms in your area?. Libraries often respond to book themes. Find out who the chiefs and managers are and put them on your postcard list. They may be intrigued. How many other people are sending them art postcards?
. Understand the parameters. Hospitals want calm. Landscapes and seascapes are a natural here, as are abstractions with horizontals that create a sense of groundedness or gentle rhythm. Still lifes create an opportunity for contemplation when you or someone is ill. There's no installation art here. And look around: Notice any red? It's rare to see it in a hospital setting. "It's the blood association," says one consultant who asked that I not use her name. In a biotech corporation, the color is not freighted with emotional associations. The nude figure? You won’t see that in most corporations. (In one university collection, which included some classic nudes, the head of the art department took staffers on a tour of the collection, speaking about the role of the figure in painting and sculpture. Any misunderstandings by the non-art staff were smartly averted.)
. Who are the freelance curators and consultants? Tap into the artists' network; ask around. Who has been approached by a curator/architect/designer/consultant? Ask if there's a particular person who works well with artists, respects the work, pays promptly.
. Is there a percentage-for-art program in your city or state? Check it out. One percent of a multi-million-dollar project can yield a tidy sum for art.
. Some work may be commissioned, but that's a whole other post.

Understand the Process
The curator/architect/designer/consultant is working for the client, not for you. That doesn't necessarily mean you'll be treated badly, but understand the priority. Best-case scenario: You and your work are treated with the respect you deserve. Worst-case scenario: You're considered a supplier, like the carpet company, or a service provider, like the trash pickup. If you work through a dealer, you'll be shielded from much of this unpleasantness.
. Consultants typically receive a commission on sales, as opposed to a curator who is hired for the job. A consultant may thus be motivated to take in a lot of work to present in the hopes of the corporate decisionmakers liking at least some of it. So don’t get your hopes up.
. If work is going to leave your studio on spec, make sure the person taking it is insured. Make sure there's a written agreement to spell out who’s responsible for damage. If it's going out from your gallery, the dealer handles this.
. The person finding the work is not usually the person who will pay you for it, so you may wait a long time for payment if your work gets selected. Partly this is because corporations are used to the 30-, 60-, or 90-day invoicing. Ninety days is three months after a process that has likely taken six months. So you could wait close to a year for payment. (Someone at the six- or eight-figure corporate level has no idea that the check for an artwork could be used to make a mortgage payment, pay a dental bill, or put food on the table.) If you have several such sales in the pipeline, the waiting is not so bad, because checks arrive regularly.

Nothing Succeeds like Success
The curator/architect/designer/consultant whose selection is applauded is likely to get more such jobs. If your work has gotten a good response in their jobs, they’re likely to come back to you.

Over to You
Do you have a different take on the process from what I've described? Feel free to agree or disagree, or to add something to the process. Do you have anedcotes? Dealers, curators, decorators, please add your voices to the discussion.


A First Look. And a Last Chance (With Party).

Three by me at DM Contemporary/Manhattan: From top, Silk Road 127, 128 and 129, 2009, each encaustic on panel, 12 x 12 inches
A First View . . .

DM Contemporary, a gallery in Mill Neck, Long Island, where I am represented, has opened a private viewing space in Manhattan. The new space is located in suddenly chic lower Park Avenue (the Gansevoort Park Hotel will open across the street in a few months). Owner Doris Mukabaa moved in the art before any of the furniture, so the opening on Sunday afternoon offered an all-eyes-on-the-art installation with natural light and a few strategically placed incandescents.

The exhibition is open by appointment through Saturday. Call the gallery at 516-922-3552 if you'd like to see the show. Here, let me take you on a little tour:

The little image above will take you from my work, top, to a panoramic view of the installation, below

From far left: In the main gallery, two by Nancy Manter, Chattermarks #1 and Drift #4, both distemper and collage on aluminum; David Headley, Orchid #1, acrylic on canvas
In the east gallery, still above; Carole Freyz Gutierrez, Layers 10, acrylic on canvas; Linda Cummings, archivial digital photographic prints (on either side of door). Hovering and Reverie; Luis Castro untitled sculpture (on pedestal), framed work by Frances Richardson

Continuing the panorama: Headley; two small spolvero drawings from the Concentric Shape Series by Mary Judge; Karen Margolis drawing and Luis Castro sculpture (shown full view below); Frances Richardson; Lita Kelmenson sculpture (barely visible) in doorway, Barbara Andrus sculpture, Soft Box; Louise P. Sloane, Orange Orange Cobalt Teal, acrylic polymers and paint on aluminum
Two spolvero drawings by Mary Judge, visible by the lamp pole above

Karen Margolis, Indeterminate, cut-and-stitched abaca; Luis Castro wood sculpture, Untitled


Facing the main gallery and east gallery from entry: Jackie Battenfield Frail Strings, acrylic on canvas, foreground; Nancy Manter and David Headly paintings in foreshortened view; Mary Judge drawings; Louise P. Sloane painting

A closer look at Nancy Manter's Chattermarks #1, with a view in the opposite direction

Above, from left: Karen Schiff, Untitled (Triptych), acrylic and mixed media; Isabel Bigelow, Tree-Blue, oil on panel; Jerry Marksohn, City with a Sole, archival digital photograph

Below, we'll turn left at the Bigelow painting to enter the west gallery. In foreground, Eung Ho Park, I'm Looking at You-Prickly Gaze 1, mixed media on bottle caps on panel

From left: Babe Shapiro, Spring and All, string and acrylic on board; Tamiko Kawata Sculpture for Corner, rubber bands, acrylic on tube; White Silence and Echo and White Water Reflection, both rubber bands, acrylic on canvas

Below: Tomomi Ono, Milky Way, monoprint lithograph, mixed media
Most work shown is from 2009


. . . And a Last Chance

Slippery When Wet, on view at Metaphor Contemporary Art in Brooklyn since mid- September, will close this Sunday, November 22. Eighteen of my Silk Road paintings, all with an aqueous palette, are part of the show. A larger work, Vicolo, is on view in the upstairs mezzanine. I wrote about the show here and here but go see it for yourself. Work is by Suzan Batu, Susan Homer, Nancy Manter, Andrew Mockler, Don Muchow, Peter Schroth and myself.

In a party mood? A Brooklyn-wide gallery hop will take place that weekend. Metaphor is planning a final reception party on Sunday. The gallery's Open House Reception will be from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. (though the gallery will open at noon).

"We will have refreshments and thought it would be a good day for the artists to invite friends," says gallery director Rene Lynch. So...consider yourself invited. I should be there around 4:00. Hope to see you!

Joanne Mattera: Installation view of 18 Silk Road paintings, each encaustic on panel, 12 x 12 inches


Marketing Mondays: You’ve Been Asked to do a Commission

Steven Alexander: Meteor Beach, 2008, acrylic on four canvases, 96 x 96 inches; commissioned for the lobby of the Hines Building, Lexington Avenue, New York City

Several MM readers have asked me to write about the commission process. I'm happy to, but I'll open this post with a caveat: Because I maintain this blog in my "spare" time and on my own dime, I'm not in a position to research every topic. Much of what I write about comes from my own experience. That's the case here.

The commission process varies widely, because there are many different kinds of commissions—everything from major corporate jobs with architect, consultant and dealer involved, to the small private project that takes place between artist and client. As an example, my buddy Steven Alexander's work, a large corporate commission, graces the top of this post. Most of my commissions have been for private collectors, and I don't want to violate their privacy by showing their work here. Not only are the kinds of commissions different, but people work differently.

Preliminary Communication
While the dealer handles the financial logistics of the commission, I like to communicate directly with the client to establish the esthetic parameters. If you are working without a dealer or consultant, you’ll need to handle the finances as well as the communication. (My terms: a 50% non-refundable deposit; the balance on delivery, with client responsible for shipping and installation costs. Other artists work in thirds: at the start, midway, and at the end.)
. I acknowledge that the client is interested in having me do the commission because she likes my esthetic, technique and material sensibility.
. I ask her to tell me what she has in mind, requesting that she show me examples of work she likes—mine and that of others.
. Interaction at this point is crucial. If I don’t think I can do the commission—if a client wants a still life, for instance—or if I think the client will be too difficult, I turn the job down. You develop a sixth sense about the personal interaction.
. To offset the "non-refundable" part, I tell her I’m willing to make two paintings so that she can choose the one she likes better. I'll make paintings that are related but different. More than once it has happened that the client (often a couple) decides to purchase the second one, too. If not, you have a painting for your inventory.
. Offering a two-painting choice really puts a client at ease—makes her feel that you're not going to foist something on her that she doesn’t want. Also, the two-painting process relieves you of some pressure in that you don’t have to put every idea into one painting. I wouldn't take this tack with a large commission, however, as the work load would be too specific and too intensive.
. If the work will need special care, let the client know upfront. You don’t want this to become an issue at the end.

Starting the Project
If I can see the space, good. If not, I ask the client to show me pictures. This not only gives me a sense of the space, but how it’s furnished.
. If a client requests that you visit her home, build that cost into your job estimate or price, particularly if it involves airline travel or significant time away from the studio.
. I encourage a client to send me swatches of colors from her home furnishings, visit or not. This is a commission, so if she wants her painting to go with the sofa, OK. But I make clear that once we agree on the palette, she must trust me to put the colors together in a way that makes a good painting, not simply an adjunct to the furniture.
. I provide a swatch palette on watercolor paper so the client can see the colors I’m using, since paint is different from the dye of her fabrics. Color adjustments can be made at this time.
. A commission is different from other artwork in that is being made for a particular client. Some artists get upset when they’re asked to work within parameters, or when the parameters are displeasing to them. If you don’t want to have to factor in the sofa, don’t take on a commission.

Getting Underway
At the beginning of the project, I usually send the client a jpeg to show her the studio setup for the commission. This is primarily to help her understand that the project is a big undertaking for me, and the painting is not something that can be whipped up in a week. It also assuages her fear that I haven’t gone on vacation with her non-refundable deposit.
. I send another Jpeg when the first painting is a little more than halfway completed.
. This is the time for the client to speak up. I ask: What do you like? What don’t you like? Is this what you were expecting? I not only pay attention to her comments about color, proportion, surface, whatever, I take notes. So if she tells me, “I love this palette,” or “I love what you’ve done so far,” if there’s a problem at the end, I can say, “At the midpoint you told me you loved it, and here’s what you said…."
. If I were doing a large project, I would ask the client to sign off on a progress report, essentially putting in writing what we’ve discussed, but because my commissions have been under $20,000, and because I’m working through a dealer, personal interaction and dealer involvement have been enough.

Toward the End
I send another J-peg. This lets the client see essentially what the painting will look like. There’s still a little flexibility here to make small changes—usually accent colors.
. Some clients ask to visit the studio. That’s fine with me. I always ask the involved gallery if they’d like to come to the studio as well

The Finished Painting
If she likes it, great. Sold.
. If she doesn’t like it, I ask her what she would like to see different and then try to incorporate her ideas into the second painting, which I have been working on more or less simultaneously but have not shown her.
. Some clients like the first painting but wish to refrain from committing until the second one is done. That’s OK with me.

The Second Painting
At the midpoint of this painting I send the client a j-peg. If she’s in love with the first one, this is usually the time when she commits to it. This allows me to take my time on the second painting and let it evolve into something that doesn’t hew to the parameters of the commission. If she wants to see the second one, I'll finish it right away.

Payment and Delivery
Because I work with dealers, they handle the contracts and the payment. But the bottom line is the non-refundable 50%. I must have my share in hand before I start the work. That money is for my materials and time--the sketches, material gathering, the back-and-forth communication with the client. Also, when clients have already paid for half a painting, their enthusiasm is likely to remain active.
. I may deliver the painting to the gallery, or the gallery may have it pickjed up, but the gallery delivers it to the client. Some dealers (typically outside New York) will install the painting for the client.
. The balance is paid to the dealer when the painting is delivered. (If you’re working on your own, this is the time to collect.)

A Note About Pricing
If I were doing a large project, particularly a project outside the scope of what I normally do, I would work up a thorough budget—cost of paint, panels, transportation, assistants, installation, and a salary for me. The moment you step outside your familiar work zone, you really need think things through. (Refer to Jackie Battenfield's
The Artist's Guide for more on this matter.)
. Once you and a client agree on a price, there is no renegotiating, no discount. If you are unfamiliar with the client and you’re working without a dealer, a contract would be in order.

. If a client wishes to purchase the second painting (it has happened!), I feel a 10% or 15% “courtesy” is acceptable on the second work. The client gets a deal and you make two sales—win/win.
. If a dealer secures the commission for you, a 40% commission is appropriate (maybe 50% if they worked hard to secure the commission, or if they plan to host an unveilng party, or produce a catalog or nice brochure.) If you’re working alone, you retain the full price but you may be asked to deliver the work, to help install it—possibly having to hire help—so you’ll earn every penny. (I have worked in different ways with that non-refundable 50% deposit. One time I kept the entire deposit and dealer got most of the remainder at delivery; that was a mistake, because there was no carrot at the end. Usually the dealer and I divide the deposit up front and at the end.)
. If you are working alone, build the price of administration, delivery and installation into your final proposed price. If the client balks at this price, you can negotiate down. For instance, you could eliminate the post-painting services such as delivery and installation. This is why communication is essential. It’s also why a dealer earns her commission; she’s going to handle all that stuff.

Over to you
Readers, have you you handled commissioned projects? Please weigh in with advice, caveats and anecdotes.




I remember Sapphire's 1996 novel, Push, on which this movie is based, as being unrelentingly heavy. An illiterate 300-pound girl, pregnant for the second time at 16 with her father's child, is subject to an ugly sack of abuse by the depraved father, by her angry mother, and by strangers who see her size as an invitation to assault her verbally, sometimes physically.

The movie, Precious, still weighty, has moments of lightness, especially in the girls-only classroom of the last-chance school Precious attends. Thrown together, Precious and her classmates form an unlikely fabric, a safety net that catches and holds them all. Without getting all preachy, those scenes suggest what Precious will come to learn: that education is the way out of her particular hell.
Gabourey Sidibe brings intelligence and growing awareness to her sullen, illiterate Precious. The comic Mo'nique is a powerfully vile and monstrous mother. Lenny Kravitz has a small role as a sympathetic nurse. Paula Patton has an impossibly decent role as the saintly teacher. Mariah Carey, who plays the social worker, should stick to singing. And is that the novel's author who has a cameo in the daycare scene at the end?
Lee Daniels directed. Oprah and Tyler Perry produced.
See it!


What Recession?

Terminus: Drawings and Recent Paintings, a solo exhibition by Raoul De Keyser at David Zwirner through October 14, featured some 50 small abstractions with a geometric bent. I was taken with the intimacy of the work and with the playful, almost naive, shapes and colors.

Raoul De Keyser, Crawly, 2009, oil on canvas, app. 13.5 x 17.5 inches

But that's only half of why I'm writing about the show. The other half is to talk about the prices. The small paintings--most not much larger than 12 inches in any one dimension--had enormous prices. How enormous? Like $55,000 to $75,000 enormous. And there were red dots next to most of them. Want to guess the price of Crawly, above? See for yourself:

Did I step into an alternate universe? In this beautiful show, most of the paintings, in the high five figures, were red dotted

The three paintings on the wall, above, are shown in the price list below:
Below: Also on the price list is Complex, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 10 7/8 inches. Price: $55,000


I Shot (The Man Shooting) Andy Warhol

At the Art Institute of Chicago's new wing: You Know Who by You Know Who


Logging In From Chicago


Charles Ray, Hinoki, 2007, carved cypress

So there I was in the Art Institute of Chicago’s new wing this past weekend, taking it all in for the first time, when I came upon a fallen log set on blocks. Given my two recent tree posts from Boston and New York, reporting on this creates an arboreal trifecta.

Charles Ray found a fallen tree in a field in California, cut it into pieces with a chainsaw, and transported it piece by piece to his Los Angeles studio. Here, let him tell you the rest, courtesy of the wall text:

“Silicone molds were taken and a fiberglass version of the log was reconstructed. This was sent to Osaka, Japan, where master woodworker Yuboku Mukoyoshi and his apprentices carved my vision into reality using Japanese cypress (hinoki).” So it's an exact replica of the tree Ray found, except possibly in a different wood.

In its new incarnation the tree will likely have another 1000 years of life, according to Ray: “When I asked Mr. Mukoyoshi about the wood and how it would behave over time, he told me that it would be fine for 400 years and then it would go into a crisis; after 200 years of splitting and cracking, it would go into slow decline for another 400 years.”

Of course this tree has a controlled climate and, more important, museum conservators to look after it.

Let's walk around it counterclockwise:

The far end (barely visible in the picture above)
Below: Rounding the end, you can peer into the hollow log


Continuing around to the other side: Stepping back to take in its length; a long branch reveals the fragility of the log
Below: We continue circling; the gallery entrance is over your right shoulder as you view this end of the work

I'll have more from Chicago over the next couple of weeks. Then . . . Miami.